March 14 vs. Minnesota Wild at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM, 1500 AM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Minnesota Wild 43-18-6
Washington Capitals 44-17-7
For the first time in nearly two and a half years, the Caps are lugging a four-game losing streak into their next game. And for the first time in 17 years, Washington heads home empty-handed from a three-game trip against the league's trio of California teams.
Now, the Caps head home to host the Minnesota Wild, the best team in the Western Conference. The Wild makes its lone visit of the season to D.C. on Tuesday night in a contest that pits two of the league's six 90-point teams to date.
Washington's fruitless West Coast run concluded on Sunday with a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Ducks in Anaheim. It is the Capitals' fourth loss in seven days, all by two or more goals. The Caps' lead in the Metropolitan Division standings may be gone by the opening face-off of Tuesday's game; the Pittsburgh Penguins can leap over Washington in the standings with a win in Calgary on Monday night.
"It's not a good feeling," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin of his team's slump. "We know what we did wrong and what we need to do right. We need to manage our game. The next game will be better. We have a huge opportunity against Minnesota, so we need to bounce back."
Sunday's loss in Anaheim was the sixth straight game in which Washington failed to score as many as three goals, its longest streak of that ilk in more than a decade.
"We've got a good hockey team when we're on our game," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Right now, we've got too many guys off it. So you pull together, not apart. And this group will pull together. This will be a good learning experience for us."
Washington dropped just four games in regulation (26-4-5) over a 35-game span of the season from Dec. 3-Feb. 11, and three of those losses came by a single goal. The Caps are 5-6-1 in the dozen games they've played since, and they've now dropped four straight multi-goal games for the first time in more than a decade. The 2006-07 Caps lost five straight games by a multi-goal margin from March 3-12, 2007. Washington has also surrendered four or more goals in four straight games for the first time in more than two years, since Jan. 16-27, 2015.
Some of these recent statistical anomalies highlight the Capitals' status as one of the league's most consistent regular season teams over the last decade. Since the start of the 2007-08 season, the Caps own the league's second-best record from a points percentage perspective. Only Pittsburgh (.644) has been better than the Caps (.638) in the regular season over that span.
The way Washington was playing over the aforementioned 35-game stretch earlier in the season was clearly unsustainable on many levels, but the expected market correction has perhaps veered more sharply in the other direction now.
"If you look back to January, we were winning 5-1 or 6-1," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "Things were going well, but now it's going the other way. Things can change quickly. We have to keep working hard and make sure we do the right thing and it'll turn around."
Washington comes home from a tough trip to take on a tough foe, and the Wild arrived in the District nearly a full day ahead of the Capitals, too. Home cooking has been good to the Caps of late. A 4-2 loss to Dallas last Monday started Washington on its current side, but prior to that the Caps reeled off a franchise record 15 straight wins at home. The Caps are 27-6-1 at home this season, and they've claimed at least a point in 20 of their last 22 games (19-2-1) at Verizon Center .
"That's going to be a big game for us," says Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt. "To start off the home series like that and be able to be at home for a little while, it will be good especially when you play against such a strong team like Minnesota, the best in the West. We've got to be able to get out of this little funk that we're in. We've just got to play that 60-minute game that we were so accustomed to playing at the beginning of the year."
With 14 games now remaining in the regular season and five points separating the top four teams in the NHL's Metropolitan Division, the Caps have to find a way to restore some consistency and some confidence to their game in several areas all over the ice.
"Just battle through it, just work as a team and not get too frustrated not trying to take any other routes to get it done," says Caps forward Marcus Johansson. "Just stick with it, and stick with what we're doing in this room. We've shown that we can be successful before, so we just have to battle through it, and hopefully a couple of breaks can get us right back on track and get our confidence back a little bit."
The Wild is embroiled in a tight and competitive chase for its own division title. Minnesota hits the District on the heels of a 4-2 loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday.
Minnesota has dropped three of its last four and four of its last six, and Sunday's loss to the Hawks leaves the Wild with just a one-point lead over Chicago in the chase for the Central Division crown. The Wild holds a game in hand on the Hawks.
The Wild ranks among the league's top eight teams in goals per game (second), goals against (fourth), power play prowess (eighth) and penalty killing (sixth). The Wild has lost as many as two straight games in regulation just twice this season, a fate it will seek to avoid on Tuesday in the District.
Minnesota hits town in the midst of a five-game road trip, matching its longest journey of the season. The Wild is 20-9-5 on the road this season and it has collected at least a point in 18 of its last 22 road games (16-4-2) in '16-17. Minnesota will make one last stop on its current trip in Carolina on Thursday before returning home to host the Rangers on Saturday.
Tuesday's tilt between the Capitals and the Wild is the first between the two clubs in more than a year, since the Caps skated to a 3-2 win here in D.C. on Feb. 26 of last year. It's also the first of two meetings in a span of two weeks between the two teams; Washington starts a season-high five-game road trip of its own on March 28 in St. Paul.